“For those who believe—as I do—that the clerics who rule Iran must never have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the United States’ course of action ought to be clear: The Bush administration should advocate direct, unconditional talks between Washington and Tehran.” So writes AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht in yesterday’s New York Times in “Attack Iran, With Words.” His point is simple: “If the mullahs don’t want to negotiate, fine: making the offer is something that must be checked off before the next president could unleash the Air Force and the Navy.” Moreover, he thoughtfully argues that we need to wage a war of ideas, put Iranian leaders on the defensive, and open the country to internal debate.
I am all for knocking Tehran’s leaders off balance, but Gerecht is wrong about the best means of doing so, at least at this moment. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Bush administration is sharing with the International Atomic Energy Agency additional information proving that Iran once maintained a bomb-building program. Washington hopes that the agency’s inspectors will then confront the Iranians with the evidence. Over the last two years, the United States has provided to the IAEA material from an Iranian laptop, smuggled out of Iran in 2004, that showed the country had been working on, among other things, the best altitudes for detonating nuclear warheads.
We have not been the only ones lending a hand to the IAEA. Yesterday, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran charged that Tehran was speeding up its nuclear weapons program, it has obtained the assistance of North Korea, it is developing at a location in southeastern Tehran a nuclear warhead for its medium-range missile, and it has set up a command and research facility near a Tehran university. The NCRI said it provided substantiation to the IAEA on Tuesday. In 2002, this dissident group alerted the world to Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program and since then has provided information, some considered reliable and others still unverified. The information released yesterday, if true, would indicate that the National Intelligence Estimate released in early December is incorrect insofar as it states that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003.
Are the latest NCRI allegations correct? We don’t know at this moment. Yet we can see that these charges put the mullahs on the defensive. So we should not, as Gerecht suggests, try to begin a new round of talking to them. In short, there’s nothing more to discuss with Tehran’s clerics. We shouldn’t attack them with words. We need to hit them with facts.